Correctional boot camps, sometimes called shock or intensive incarceration, that use a military boot camp paradigm, exist in many states throughout the U.S.. These programs often employ physical exercise, drills, ceremony, and uniforms, in an attempt to instill discipline and respect in criminal defendants.
As someone who, as a child, revered Vince Lombardi and was trained to be up to milk cows at 5:00 a.m., I can understand the political popularity of these types of programs. Shouldn’t individuals who committed crimes be taught the value of discipline and respect that we all learned as children? Despite the strong intuitive allure of these programs, are these programs effective in reducing recidivism?
A systematic review of 32 research studies was undertaken to answer this question.[i] These researchers could not find any statistical difference in recidivism between offenders who participated in a boot camp and those who did not participate in a boot camp. The offenders who had not participated in a boot camp did not have a lower recidivism rate than non-participating offenders, nor did they do have any greater recidivism. The researchers concluded that the military component (drills, exercise, uniforms, etc.) had no effect, one way or another, on recidivism.[ii]
The researchers also cautioned that when added to boot camps, effective treatment may make boot camps effective for treating criminal behavior. (Wisconsin’s challenge incarceration program involves alcohol and drug treatment.) The question yet to be answered is whether the boot camp setting for the treatment causes any further reduction in recidivism beyond the effects of the treatment alone.
These researchers further discuss that there may be other benefits of boot camps, such as reduced need for prison beds, improved pro-social attitudes, attachment to community or reduced impulsivity. These factors were not studied, but regardless, any positive changes in these factors resulting from boot camp did not result in less crime.[iii]